By Stephen Lee firstname.lastname@example.org Oct 8, 2015
President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated longtime federal prosecutor Randy Seiler of Fort Pierre as U.S. attorney, or the top federal prosecutor, for South Dakota.
Seiler has been acting U.S. attorney since March, when U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson resigned.
Seiler actually was sworn in Tuesday in a quiet ceremony in Pierre by U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange, based on his appointment by U.S. Attorney Gen. Loretta Lynch.
That appointment became effective today, Thursday, Seiler told the Capital Journal a short time before the White House announcement was released.
“I can drop one word – acting – from my title,” Seiler said drily, to illustrate that the practical effects of the change won’t be tremendous.
Seiler’s appointment by Lynch was a practical stop-gap necessity, good for 120 days or a presidential nomination, whichever comes first.
It was needed because of a federal law requiring such a move after an acting U.S. attorney has been in that role for 210 days. That period ran out at midnight Wednesday, Seiler said from Sioux Falls.
Seiler was one of six people Obama nominated Thursday as U.S. attorneys, including one to fill Lynch’s spot in New York.
“Through their dedication and accomplishments, these fine attorneys have distinguished themselves as some of the best and brightest their profession has to offer,” Obama said in a news release. “I am honored to nominate them as United States Attorneys and know that they will faithfully and tirelessly pursue justice on behalf of the American people.”
Seiler became acting U.S. attorney March 12 when Johnson resigned after five years to go back to private practice, this time with a high-powered Minneapolis-based law firm.
He knew Obama’s nomination was coming soon, but the statutory time limit needed to be accounted for earlier this week, as Lynch did, Seiler said.
Typically presidents nominate U.S. attorneys, who then are confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
So there is a partisan aspect to the job.
Seiler is a registered Democrat in a state dominated like no other right now by Republicans.
His nomination by Obama has to be approved by the U.S. Senate
South Dakota’s senior U.S. Senator, John Thune, a Republican, of course, released a terse comment to the Capital Journal on Seiler’s nomination that didn’t indicate certain support: “I look forward to reviewing his nomination and hearing about what he plans to accomplish should he be confirmed.”
South Dakota’s other Senator, also a Republican, gave a warmer welcome to Seiler’s nomination.
“Randy is a friend who has earned the respect and admiration of many South Dakotans,” said Rounds in a news release. “He has the experience, integrity and professionalism necessary to faithfully uphold the Constitution and protect South Dakotans. I applaud President Obama for nominating Randy to this post and look forward to his quick approval by the Senate.”
Seiler also serves on the six-member Fort Pierre City Council, a non-partisan office to which he was elected last year.
He told the Capital Journal he now will resign from the Council per White House rules for U.S. attorneys to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
Seiler, who grew up and graduated from high school in Herreid, has worked as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in South Dakota for 20 years. He’s held several leadership positions, including as first assistant U.S. attorney to Johnson from October 2009 to Johnson’s resignation in March 2015, which made him automatically the acting U.S. attorney.
Before he was hired as an assistant U.S attorney in 1995, Seiler had a private law practice in Mobridge, where he also served three terms on the local school board, he said.
He earlier served as state’s attorney in Campbell County and as a special judge for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. He and his wife, Wanda, live in Fort Pierre. She attended his swearing in on Tuesday.
Seiler, who spoke at a municipal meeting Thursday in Watertown, works out of the Pierre office of the U.S. attorney, which also has offices in Rapid City and Sioux Falls.
U.S. attorneys are appointed to four-year terms.
The office is, as some describe it, a “political plum.” Each president has the right and tradition to appoint top federal prosecutors in each of the nation’s 93 federal districts.
It means when a new president from the opposite party moves into the new presidency to be followed by new top federal prosecutors in most districts, as happened in South Dakota and North Dakota after Obama’s election in 2008.
Assistant U.S. attorneys are not governed by the same political spoils system but work under, and are protected in their jobs by, the civil service system, according to Department of Justice information.
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley was Seiler’s boss for a time when Jackley was U.S. attorney 2006-2009.
But they go way back, said Jackley, a Republican.
“Randy went to law school with my father, so I met Randy a long time ago,” said Jackley Thursday as he was driving back from a Watertown meeting where both he and Seiler had talked to police chiefs from across the state.
“As a defense lawyer earlier in my career, I had the opportunity to try a jury trial against Randy. I’ve always respected Randy both as a prosecutor and as a manager. I believe South Dakota is very fortunate to have a United States Attorney with Randy’s experience, his respect and his ability to lead the U.S. attorney’s office with its important work.”
Jackley said Senate confirmation of a U.S. attorney’s nomination can take a while.
In his case, his fellow Republican, Sen. Thune, supported him but Sen. Tim Johnson, though a Democrat, also “assisted with the Democrat side of the Senate,” said Jackley, who got a unanimous vote out of the Senate.
But the Senate simply moves slowly in such matters, he said.
Jackley left as U.S. attorney a few months after Obama took office in 2009, when then-Gov. Mike Rounds appointed him state attorney general to replace Larry Long, who was named a state judge by Rounds.
Jackley said as a fellow prosecutor in South Dakota, he’s confident Seiler “will partner with us in protecting the public from human trafficking, the operations of the drug task forces. We see Randy as a strong partner with state and local authorities.”
Seiler’s appearance Thursday at a state municipal league meeting before a group of police chiefs from across the state illustrates the U.S. attorney’s good relationships with state and local officials, said Jackley, who also spoke at the meeting in Watertown.
Seiler is a graduate of the University of South Dakota’s law school and, though he doesn’t include it in his biography the U.S attorney’s office website, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska.
Seiler’s work as an assistant U.S. attorney focused on prosecuting violent crimes in “Indian Country,” as federal officials call it, which in South Dakota includes nine Indian reservations. He served as the tribal liaison for the U.S. attorney’s office in South Dakota.
In 2008, Seiler served as counsel to the director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s executive office for U.S. attorneys in Washington and won awards from DOJ officials for his work as a federal prosecutor.
He served in the Air Force from 1966-1970, including a 1968 tour of “intelligence communications” duty in Vietnam, he said.
Seiler is a graduate of the University of South Dakota’s law school.
He and his wife, Wanda, have four children and two grandchildren.